Starving Interview: Jacob Appel, Author of The Biology of Luck

It’s time again to bring back another Starving Review alumnus to the kitchen and pick open their minds!  Today’s chef is Jacob M. Appel, author of past reviewee The Biology of Luck.  Read the interview then take the time to check out the review!

Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!

I’m Jacob M. Appel. However, your readers are far more likely to recognize me by the various pen names I use—including William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon and Richard Powers.

Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?

In my “real” life, I’m a practicing psychiatrist…which, my friends tell me, is almost a “real” doctor.

What is your latest dish to be served up? Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?

I have a new collection of stories out with Black Lawrence this summer, Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets. Yet the most popular of my works—to the degree any could be considered popular—are Einstein’s Beach House and The Biology of Luck. Okay, popular might be an overstatement. But they are available in bookstores.

What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?

Books have fewer carbs than pasta. And I eat them I smaller portions. Initially, I switched to cooking leather shoes, like Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush, but then I became a vegetarian. But you probably wanted a more sincere answer. I suppose I started writing books because, like most aspiring authors, I figured: Any idiot can do that. And I’m any idiot.

Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?

I dabble. It’s a strategy for masking any deficiencies in talent. My friends who read fiction assume I’m a brilliant essayist and my friends who read essays imagine my gifts lie in fiction.

Style! Every literary chef aspires to have their own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?

Describing someone as a great stylist is often akin to calling them “an author’s author.” It’s a euphemism for saying nobody except other authors buys their books. Think James Salter or Eudora Welty. I strive to sound like whoever wins next year’s Pulitzer Prize.

Even the best of us find inspiration is the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?

Every time I sit down at my desk, I think: If this book is good enough, Sophia Loren will read it and fall madly in love with me….This hasn’t happened yet, alas, and I fear both of us are running out of time…. As for writers I envy: John Fowles, Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, Philip Larkin. I think I’d like to be remembered as the handsome, personable Philip Larkin.

Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?

As Mr. Twimble advises in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, I have no point of view.

Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?

A “Hemingway man” sounds like a euphemism for something indiscreet, so I’d better go for the opposite. Especially if children are reading this.

Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?

Editor vs. publicist. It’s good to see them get bloodied up for a change.

What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?

Salt. According to my mother, whose many talents include neither plot nor characterization, you can salvage any recipe with enough salt. Cyanide, I’m told, also does the trick.

We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?

I plagiarize my opening paragraphs from Karen Russell.

The most important of questions: Cake or pie?

Dissidents are being tortured in Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea – and you ask, cake or pie? You should really rethink your priorities.

Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would that be?

Be relentless. Oh, and buy my books. All of the secret answers are contained therein.


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